Something new: more HP lifespan
Update: Those NDAs are still in place

The unique value from HP's extension: labs

HP surprised some of its customers by announcing on Dec. 20 that its 3000 support business will end two years later than 2006. Some debate has emerged about what this means to the community, to OpenMPE, and to the vendor itself. OpenMPE had a conference call today to discuss its fate in the wake of the HP decision to withhold source code for an extra two years, at least. If the advocacy group is to survive, it might need to be as a user group, rather than an organization running a lab.

The OpenMPE directors will decide what's best for the organization's future, but now the 3000 community's future includes something very unique: an extra two years of work on MPE/iX by its creators. Bug fixes, probably, make up the biggest list of 2007-08 projects. But now the labs in Cupertino and in Bangalore, India have more time to get those many patches out of beta test and into general release. HP reiterated in its letter to customers that the vendor wishes more of you would test those enhancements — the ones which fewer than 300 people voted on in 2003 and 2004 System Improvement Ballots.

The labs have other work to finish, or even succeed with for the first time. The IMAGE/SQL LargeFile database mess is still in repair. HP had a patch for these datasets to replace jumbos, datasets that have caused corruption so routinely most partners advise customers don't use them. HP moved out the repair patch into test with a third party vendor this year, but that patch didn't make the grade.

We've been told by database experts that LargeFile support is so complex it can have plenty of negative performance impacts if it's not done with the most elegant of engineering. Elegant engineering is especially hard when the test subjects must be massive datasets, which take days to test with all but the hottest of HP 3000 hardware. Remember, these are servers that are hampered by slowdown code in all but the biggest models of N-Class devices.

These are the kinds of problems the vendor's labs are best equipped to solve, and now there's more time on the clock to do so. What HP's 3000 lab will do for you during these two years remains to be seen.

What the vendor wants us to remember is that support from HP is not a long-term solution. The market understands that. Otherwise, people wouldn't be moving to third parties so often for support. Although this announcement was about HP's support, it's not the call-and-fix kind of repairs that the customers need from HP. Third parties have handled that kind of work in able fashion for many years, at a serious discount.

No, what the 3000 community needs is the effort of HP's engineers, the factory-level experts, to resolve things like the LargeFile mess. Since HP won't be dishing out its MPE source code for at least three more years, no third party is going to be able to amass factory-level experience until sometime in 2009. Unless HP's 3000 engineers can be hired away from the vendor, HP has cornered the market on patches.

We might think of that as an extension of what the customers are comfortable paying for. After all, patches are free to everyone. It's good that HP will be running a support effort for an extra 24 months to keep writing them. The tough nut to crack: getting customers to test them. Maybe with the extra time on the clock, some sites will be willing to take the risk and test patches. This announcement was about good will, too. One customer called it "a wonderful Christmas present." While many partners don't see it that way, it's easy to understand how two extra years will look like HP is listening, and responding, to customer timelines.